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In Kirchner's Absence, Argentine Whispers Of Health Secrets And Successors

Kirchner, in August, flanked by possible successor Scioli
Kirchner, in August, flanked by possible successor Scioli
Eduardo Van Der Kooy

BUENOS AIRES - The announcement came this weekend that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner will be recuperating for at least the next month from a brain condition brought on by a head injury in August. While the news is shaking up the nation, it is also putting a veil across a potential political crisis for Argentina.

Among other things, we can see the accelerated political decline of a president who won the last election with 54% of the votes, and is expected to seek another term in two years.

Her slide is apparent no matter where you look. First, Kirchner is facing a potential electoral defeat in the upcoming regional elections at the end of October, with her close ally, Daniel Scioli behind in the polls in the race for a second term as Governor of the Buenos Aires province.

But beyond the polls, there seems to be a progressive worsening in her system for exercising power, as management failures mount alongside a deepening disappointment with the Kirchner brand of Peronism that that has dominated the past decade in Argentine politics.

The list of diplomatic problems without solutions is piling up -- with Spain over Repsol, with Washington over the detention of a naval vessel, with Brazil over trade issues, with Uruguay over a border conflict over pollution. And each time, Kirchner looks increasingly isolated.

Questions of succession

Kirchner’s accumulation of blood on her brain, according to specialists, could be because of an older medical condition. At the same time, the country's problems can take a toll on its leader. Similarities in symptoms have been commented on with the sudden death of her late husband and former president. Nestor Kirchner reportedly received repeated warning signs from his body before he died in 2007.

Although Cristina seems to be more cautious and paying closer attention to her health, in both cases the suspicion of political manipulation persists. The brain scan that Kirchner showed Saturday included details of her medical history; and although it wasn’t entirely clear, at least it was communicated. Her first episode was in 2011 when she fell during a visit to the Luis Federico Leloir Institute. The problem was dealt with by a well-known neurologist who told her that there were no cerebral consequences after this incident.

The second trauma she suffered was unspecified, but perhaps came when she went roller-blading in August The same neurologist who treated her in 2011 gave the same “all-clear” diagnosis again.

Then, on Saturday, the president’s arrhythmia and migraines were treated by a different doctor, and after hours of various rumors came the announcement of strict bed rest for a month. Much less is known about the characteristics and possible consequences of this delicate condition.

With the pause come questions about the future, even as Kirchner had begun to build a line of presidential succession. Among the many who she could choose to succeed her, Buenos Aires' Scioli is at the top of the list, considered a close and trusted ally. During her last TV appearance, Kirchner said of him: “I have never lost confidence in him.” Meanwhile, this weekend he stated “We must take care of the president’s health.”

Scioli, who had served as Nestor Kirchner's Vice President, has become “Re-Kirchnerized” to a remarkable extent over the past few months. His run for governor of Buenos Aires at the end of October has taken on extra weight in light of the President's absence.

Did Scioli, perhaps, know something about Kirchner’s ailing health? Or did he simply sense the possibility of new openings? Had he talked about it at all with the president? In this time of massive political uncertainty, answers to these questions are the most precious of commodities in the Argentine capital.

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